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Asia’s richest man surges to global top 10 - who is he?

Who is Mukesh Ambani? Source: Getty

Asia’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, is now among the world’s top 10 richest people, after his net worth surged to a whopping US$64.5 billion (AU$93.2 billion).

The business mogul is the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries - the parent company of Indian energy and materials conglomerate, Reliance Group.

And after Reliance Industries announced it became a net-debt free company months ahead of its March 2021 target, Ambani surged to the world’s top 10 richest people, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires’ Index.

The net-debt free status comes as Ambani amassed more than US$15 billion in investments from the likes of Facebook, TPG and Saudi Arabia, all in a bid to get his tech company, Jio Platforms, to soar.

Shares in Reliance Industries have more than doubled since a low in March, and are up 17.2 per cent since the beginning of the year at $23 per share.

The surge comes despite a downturn in the oil sector and indicators that India’s economy is headed for a major slump.

Ambani, the only person from Asia on the list, edged out Oracle’s Larry Ellison and L’Oreal heiress Francoise Bettencourt Meyers for ninth position. 

The Indian businessman has been India’s richest person for12 years in a row, and is also the world’s richest person in all of Asia - more than US$44 billion richer than Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

But wait - who is Mukesh Ambani?

As the chairman and MD of Reliance Industries, Ambani is a big deal in India, and now indeed the world.

The 64-year-old studied chemical engineering in Mumbai, and later enrolled in an MBA at Stanford, only to withdraw in 1980 to help his father start Reliance - which, back then, was a small but fast-growing trading house.

The business dealt in refining and petrochemicals, and included products and services in retail and telecommunications. In fact, its tech business, Jio, has sat in the nation’s top-five services since its launch in 2016.

But when his father died without a will in 2002, tensions rose between Ambani and his brother over the distribution of the empire. 

Their mother intervened to stop the feud, and split the company in two, with Ambani receiving control of Reliance Industries, but making the brothers rivals in the process.

Reliance Industries’ success overtook his brother Anil’s company, Reliance Communications, which filed for bankruptcy in 2019, leaving Anil with a US$80 million debt.

Since then, Ambani has championed Jio, his own communications business, and spoken of his ambition to make it a globally-renowned tech company.

Surprising habits

Most CEOs have habits and rituals, like 5am yoga or putting their phone on ‘do not disturb’ when they leave the office, but Ambani’s habits are a little different.

For starters, Ambani asks for his mother’s blessing each day before heading out to work, and Sundays are reserved for family time.

He also capped his salary at US$2 million per year back in 2009, meaning his remuneration has remained unchanged for over a decade.

The chairman and managing director deliberately capped his salary, saying he wants to set an example for other CEOs.

"Compensation of Shri Mukesh D Ambani, Chairman and Managing Director, has been set at Rs 15 crore [AU$2.9 million], reflecting his desire to continue to set a personal example for moderation in managerial compensation levels," Reliance Industries said in its 2019 annual report.

The average CEO income in the United States sits at US$14.5 million, a whopping $12.5 million more than Ambani’s pay.

Yahoo Finance Breakfast Club episode 7.

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